ECT Series: Stiles Cove Path

When I first started hiking the East Coast Trail, I did a lot of the trails near St. John’s. It’s a long drive to get down to some of the hikes on the Southern Shore (especially since you need 2 cars for a lot of them), so it was easier to do hikes close to home. Stiles Cove Path runs from Flatrock to Pouch Cove; however, at 15.1km, it’s one of the longest trails on the northern part of the East Coast Trail, which means it was one of the last ones I did.

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When I was home this summer (2021), I decided it was finally time to tackle Stiles Cove. The weather was extremely variable the entire time I was home, meaning it was hard to predict if you would have a clear day, a foggy day, or a rainy day (or more likely, all three!). Most of my friends were working during the weekdays, so I decided to hike Stiles Cove solo. I’ve been doing a lot of solo hiking in NL in recent years and have come to really enjoy it. There are much fewer wild animals to worry about in Newfoundland – black bear encounters are very unlikely (and the black bears are very small and skittish) – so your most likely encounter is probably a moose. It’s scary when you see them due to their size, but usually they don’t have much interest in you.

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It was foggy almost every morning, but on the morning I decided to hike Stiles Cove, the forecast was predicting the weather would clear up, so I decided to go for it. My Mom dropped me out to Flatrock on her lunch break and agreed to come back to get me 5 hours later when she got off work. It was drizzling on the drive out and Mom was convinced it was going to rain for my whole hike (she really hates the rain) and that I would regret it. Fortunately, she was wrong! It was pretty misty when I started the trail and the fog was hanging along the coast, so there wasn’t a whole lot to see at first. The trail starts along the rocky coast and you go inland briefly near the beginning to cross the river, where there’s a nice little waterfall. I hiked about a kilometer before stopping for a quick lunch. It was still overcast, but I could tell the fog was already starting to lift a bit and I had a nice view back into Flatrock.

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From there the trail hikes up towards Red Head Cliff. It’s only a few kilometres into the trail and already, I had a trip highlight! Red Head is beautiful! It’s a sheer red cliff descending into the ocean, with a big grassy head to explore around. What made it so beautiful when I visited is that the fog had moved out enough that it was now hanging around the horizon, making it hard to tell where the ocean ended and the sky began. I thought it was incredibly beautiful and I love getting out of the trees and hiking along grassy knolls, so I was already very satisfied.

The trail continues down the head and along the edge of a cliff around Red Head Cove where I stumbled upon a few trail workers. They were working on improving some of the boards over the muddy section and were the only people I saw the entire day until I started the hike into Pouch Cove.

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The next part of the hike is between Read Head Cove and Stiles Cove and is mostly in the woods. It breaks out of the woods a few times and I stopped to have another snack before continuing on. You can’t get to Stiles Cove on the trail, but the view down to the beach is gorgeous. It was still overcast when I passed by, but I can imagine that on a sunny day the water would be the brightest blue!

Again, the trail goes back into the woods as you continue towards Spout Cove, which marks the halfway point of the trail (7.5km). There are beautiful views through the trees as you approach the head and then you pop out on another grassy knoll. I could see this being a good camping spot if you wanted to do it overnight. There are no facilities, but I did notice a stream less than a kilometre away. I wasn’t progressing as quickly as I needed to to meet Mom at the end of the trail, but I couldn’t help stopping at Spout Cove because I had finally spotted some whales!

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Whale-watching seems to be all about timing in Newfoundland. Some trips I don’t see a single whale, and other trips (this one), it’s like I can’t get away from them! There were several of them fishing further out and eventually I had to tear myself away to continue the hike. I didn’t make it far though as I was walking closer to the whales I’d been watching. Every now and then there would be a break in the trees and I would take a peep out to check on their progress. I knew I was getting closer because I could hear them spouting and spraying water through the trees! Eventually I came to a small viewpoint and hiked down the stairs to try my luck again. It ended up being the best show of the day! I was so close to the whales and there were 4 or 5 swimming around and diving, so I watched for as long as my schedule could spare.

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After that it was back into the trees around Black Head North and I started making a better pace. The trail went in and out of the trees more, offering up some truly gorgeous grassy cliffside views (I’m a sucker for meadows if you haven’t noticed how much I talk about the grass). There are lots of sea stacks between Chimney Gulch and Shoe Cove – by now the clouds had finally broken up and I had a gorgeous sunny, blue sky day in which to finish the hike. I spent most of it chuckling at Mom and being very pleased with myself for starting the hike in the drizzle.

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Even though I was still running behind, I couldn’t help but stop again when I arrived at Shoe Cove. Though Stiles Cove Path is 15km long, Shoe Cove is the only part of the trail that actually descends to a beach. The rest of the trail is along the bluffs, which makes for beautiful views, but every now and then it’s nice to actually go down to the water. Shoe Cove is a very narrow sheltered beach with a river pooling at the end of the beach before running into the ocean. There was no one around and I couldn’t resist going for a swim. First I thought I would just go in the river, which was insanely warm, but I decided to try the ocean too since it was so sheltered and was pleased to find that that water was actually pretty warm too! I didn’t have a swimsuit, so I went in my birthday suit, which is really such a freeing experience when you’re the only one around. I let the sun dry me off on the beach before continuing on to finish the last 3 kilometers of the hike. I had service, so I let Mom know I was running a little late.

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But I didn’t need to worry, there’s an uphill section after Shoe Cove and then it’s a pretty easy hike into Pouch Cove. There’s one more viewpoint at George’s Point that I hiked down to, but regretted because then I had to hike back up again. The views coming into Pouch Cove are excellent! The trail is exposed as you come into town, which makes for a scenic end to the trail. My Dad picked me up at the Church in Pouch Cove and in all, my GPS tracked exactly 15km and 250m total in elevation gain. It took me just over 5 hours to hike the entire trail – I took lots of breaks, so I did have to hike pretty fast to finish in 5 hours. Also, the more people you hike with, the slower you will go, so I recommend giving yourself a bit more time if you’re hiking this trail.

Overall, Stiles Cove Path is incredibly scenic. It is a longer trail, at 15km, but I didn’t find it to be a very difficult trail and has minimal elevation gain overall, so I definitely recommend it!

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